Otter, Affordable Newborn warmer

video made with After Effects

International research, design and fabrication of a newborn warmer that will prevent hypothermia in developing countries

Company: Design that Matters

Project Outcome: Multiple iterations on the Otter warmer including the latest alpha-prototype, currently being used to refine manufacturing details to bring the concept to market in 2019.  
2015 - present

Team: Lead: Malory Johnson
ID: Karan Mudgal
ME: Kristine Chen
ME: Kelly Brennan
ME: Celine Ta
Clinical research: Kristen Moulton

Project website

The Need: affordable Active warming

otter need graphic.jpg

Otter Summary:

Designed for district hospitals in resource poor areas, Otter is a low-cost warming bassinet that allows thermally stable newborns to avoid developing hypothermia while undergoing other treatments. Unlike incubators and radiant warmers that are complicated to use and maintain, Otter provides affordable active warming that is easy to clean and hard to use wrong

Otter, paired with Firefly phototherapy quickly treats the majority of newborn complications: Jaundice and Hypothermia. These devices free up valuable time in an incubator allowing newborns with more severe conditions to be treated at birth without being referred to crowded central facilities.

Interview with Dr. Ryan Carroll, global health expert who works as a doctor in Uganda.

Interview with Dr. Ryan Carroll, global health expert who works as a doctor in Uganda.

Research Objective: User Adoption

Otter is unique in the landscape of newborn warmers because it warms through contact (like a foot warmer) rather than warming the air like a standard incubator or radiant warmer. Because of this foreign feature, Otter is often met with hesitation by clinical staff, and for good reason. With active heating, a simple mistake could lead to harmful outcomes. Our research question is this: How might we design Otter such that Doctors, Nurses and mothers feel confident that the baby is safe and warm?

We've talked with local global health experts all over the US, and with hospital staff in our target countries. We've made dedicated trips to Vietnam and Haiti to test our assumptions with intended users. We're planning trips to Sierra Leone and other African countries to finalize the design before a pilot launch in 2019.

Interview with Dr. Silvia Testa at St. Elizabeth's NICU in Boston

Interview with Dr. Silvia Testa at St. Elizabeth's NICU in Boston

Concept review with Head Nurse at Moc Chao District Hospital in Vietnam

Concept review with Head Nurse at Moc Chao District Hospital in Vietnam

Video to the right follows our most recent field research story and explains our approach to human factors and design research.

video made with After Effects


Prototyping objective: Universally Intuitive UI

For Otter's design to reflect the philosophy of Design that Matters, it must be "hard to use wrong." That means the interface must transcend language and culture to be intuitive to hospital staff around South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. 

I've led two internal projects to build a functional prototype intended to be an international research tool. Each model both looks and works like the current (at the time) Otter design.


Prototype Iterations:

First concepts
(before my involvement)
Heater: phase-changing wax
Bassinet: double walled
UI: good/bad light indicators


2016 prototype
Heater: nichrome wires/air pocket
Bassinet: double walled
UI: progress/ready lights

OTTER Model 3.jpg

2017 prototype
Heater: polymer adhesive film
Bassinet: double walled (cheaper!)
UI: icon-based UI

2017 Summer UI prototype.jpg


Fabrication Process

We've used a variety of low-volume manufacturing equipment along with hand finishing techniques to create these prototypes. CNC milled, 3D printed and Laser Cut parts are all finished with some sandpaper, Bondo, and occationally, the shameful hot glue gun. 


Each prototype starts in CAD

These models were made in Fusion 360 and Inventor. We use one master file to export STLs and GCODE.  

Modeling (fusion).JPG

Then we test the fit

We 3D print many housing iterations with minor adjustments to account for variation in the printing process. We use a vacuum-former to create the bassinet body.


Finish 3D printed parts

Sand, fill, prime, rinse and repeat. We work to simulate the look of plastic injection molded parts.



Pack the electronics

Lastly, we fill the finished housings with the electronics and pray everything still works. Electrical engineering was accomplished by Kristine Chen, Kelly Brennan and Celine Ta


Now it's ready for International testing!